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Memorials can take a variety of forms and vary in scale from small local initiatives to grander projects that seek to transform sites of mass atrocity, and invite contemplation and interpretation. They can provoke a range of responses from public acknowledgement and national recognition to personal reflection or mourning, pride, anger, sadness, or curiosity about what has happened in the past. As all objects and acts have symbolic meaning, they can also be controversial and divisive, especially if they promote partisan and selective truths that by design or default silence other voices.

Constructed Memorials

Constructed memorials are structures or institutions purposely built to memorialise individuals or an event. They may be organised at the international, regional, national, or local level, and include the following:

  • Museums and commemorative libraries
  • Virtual memorials on the internet
  • Monuments, including walls listing the names of victims

Sites of Conscience

Sites of conscience, also referred to as found memorials, are spaces or structures not originally designed as memorials but that hold commemorative meaning. Many of these sites, which include graves, former torture centres, concentration camps, buildings used by a previous regime, and locations of mass killings or genocide, have been transformed into museums or memorials.

Anniversary Dates and Commemorations

Certain days, such as anniversaries of coups, battles, or other activities relevant to conflict or peace making, serve as important opportunities to memorialise events from the past. Governments often observe these days as national holidays, encouraging citizens to pay homage to the past.

Other Types of Remembering

Activities focused on framing or reframing memories are an imaginative form of memorialisation. In some instances they can serve as a powerful means to encourage empathy with the experiences of others. Memorialisation activities include:

  • Heritage trails and marches
  • Demonstrations and vigils
  • Walking tours and parades
  • Public apologies

Memorials are complex and engaged processes that keep memories alive. While monuments traditionally proclaimed an historical event or person that often privileged male figures, memorials that are linked to the pursuit of accountability should invite introspection and engagement, and seek to recognise the suffering of victims as citizens inclusive of their gender, class, sexuality, and ethnicity. They prompt reflection about the past, the present, and the future. A practitioner of transitional justice needs to see memorials as a means of inspiring citizens to support dialogue, ask questions, and participate in their society.